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March 26, 2010

3 arrested at White House during ‘don’t ask’ protest

Washington, D.C.--The movement to repeal the military’s ban on gay people serving openly saw a great deal of action over the last few weeks.

On March 18, Lt. Dan Choi, former Army Capt. Jim Pietrangelo and Equality March organizer Robin McGehee were arrested an hour after the two men chained themselves to the fence outside the White House.

The trio, along with around 100 people, had come from a Human Rights Campaign-organized rally in Freedom Plaza, where Kathy Griffin, former Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, HRC president Joe Solmonese and others spoke.

Choi, who is in the process of being discharged, asked to speak at the rally and was rebuffed since the program had already been set. However, when he spoke to Griffin, she said he could address the crowd.

“Repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’--not next year, not tomorrow, but now,” he said, according to DC Agenda, the city’s LGBT newspaper. “Now is the time.”

He then urged participants at the rally to come with him to the White House. He asked Griffin if she would come, and she said yes, and when asked, Solmonese gave a “thumbs-up” gesture, but neither left the Freedom Plaza event.

Park police arrested Choi and Pietrangelo, while uniformed Secret Service agents arrested McGehee, who was later released and her charges dropped after she paid a “post and forfeit” fine of $35. Choi and Pietrangelo were released without bail on March 19.

The same day as the rallies, the Senate Armed Services Committee held hearings on “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which saw some of the most startlingly thoughtless testimony in recent memory.

Retired Marine Gen. John Sheehan, who was the commander of NATO prior to his retirement in 1997, blamed gay Dutch troops for the 1995 massacre of Muslims in Srebenica, Bosnia. Around 8,000 Muslim men were killed when understaffed NATO forces were overrun by the heavily-armed Serbs.

Sheehan said that gay soldiers were a contributing factor that allowed the Serbs to overcome the NATO soldiers.

He claimed that the Dutch army’s former chief of staff Gen. Henk van den Breemen, who was in charge of the army at the time of the massacre, told him that the gay soldiers were “part of the problem,” according to the BBC.

The Dutch government was not pleased by Sheehan’s comments.

“It is astonishing that a man of his stature can utter such complete nonsense,” said defense ministry spokesman Roger van de Wetering. “Never was there in any way concluded that the sexual orientations of the soldiers played a role” after extensive international investigations.

Gen. van den Breemen denied ever saying that to Sheehan and called the statement nonsense, while Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende told his weekly news conference that Sheehan’s comments were irresponsible. Balkenende declined to protest to President Barack Obama since Sheehan is already retired.




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